2017, translated from French by H. J. Stone, 127 p.
“Darling, I’m going to Charlie” were the last words that Maryse Wolinki’s husband of 47 years, Georges, called out to her as he left for work on 7 January 2015. “Charlie” was Charlie Hebdo, the satirical newspaper for which Georges had worked as a cartoonist for many years. By lunch time that day, Georges had been killed, along with eleven of his colleagues in a terrorist attack by two gunmen, brothers Saïd and Chérif Kouachi.
In this memoir of their marriage and Georges’ murder, his wife (herself a journalist) goes through that morning almost in slow motion. As readers, we know what is going to happen, and the slow recounting of each step and mis-step is almost excruciating. She is ordered home after the shooting; no-one contacts her; her son-in-law tells her the news by telephone. There is an unreality about the police procedure as it unfolds, all too late.
The book is told very simply, but elegantly. The chapters are short, and there is a restrained rawness about her narrative.
Georges’ and Maryse’s marriage seems very French: separate bedrooms, a lingering sensuality and desire even after 47 years, a rented apartment in Paris with bookshelves and windows over-looking trees, food well-cooked by Georges. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ seven stages of grief are all on display here. She refuses to believe it; she pretends to herself that he is on vacation and will return soon; she wants to detail every event and contingency; and she becomes angry. She discovers that despite an earlier fire-bombing and threats to the director of publication, there was union pressure to downgrade the security protection of the Charlie Hebdo offices. The first-responding police wore completely inadequate protective gear, and arrived on bicycle. She blames herself for not pressing harder when Georges seemed distracted by the future of the newspaper: did he know about these threats?
The remaining staff at Charlie Hebdo kept on working. The edition published after the massacre was the best-selling ever, and it topped up Charlie Hebdo’s precarious resources. The renewed sales brought their own tensions, though, and the newspaper moved to a new (and I think, admirable) ownership model where 70% of the profits were ploughed back into the paper, and the shareholders had to actually work there. Huge demonstrations were held world-wide, declaring “Je Suis Charlie”.
There is an acceptance at the end, but it’s a slow, draining acceptance. She draws comfort from the post-it notes her husband had left for her over the years, and pastes them onto a wall. She packs up her husband’s office and donates it to a museum, she ‘moves on’ as the literature would want us to say, not from him, but for him.
My rating: 8/10
Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library.
That was such a terrible atrocity.
We went to the vigil at Fed Square, where my French teacher read the eulogy, and it was good to see Melbourne turn out in solidarity with freedom of the press.
It sounds rather moving. Lisa’s comment is interesting. I don’t remember that.